A Black Republican President? Part II

A Four-Quadrant Analysis

Transpartisan Note #59

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Theodore R. Johnson

In our last Note, we used our Transpartisan Matrix to explore political scientist Theodore R. Johnson’s analysis of ‘Why the next black president could be a Republican.’ [1]  We continue our analysis, using the Matrix, to show the conflicts within the left and within the right, which will reveal interesting insights about the continuing struggles Republicans have attracting black voters and progressives have satisfying them.

The mainstream progressive narrative sees blacks as victims of white racism. In this disempowering view, whites hold all power, blacks little or none: black progress depends almost entirely, if not exclusively, on white progressives.  Until their progressive allies get whites to change, blacks can do little or nothing themselves.

Although the 1964 Civil Rights Act was supported by an overwhelming bipartisan vote (over 70% of each House of Congress), mainstream conservative have offered no proposals for healing racial conflict and in fact largely ignore the issue, which blacks understand as an implicit acceptance of racism that persists among the order-right.

This position is especially true among the least educated and poorest whites in the South—people who have their own empowerment agendas.  President Lyndon Johnson saw the precise political implications of this in 1964, when he said, according to his press secretary Bill Moyers, ‘I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.’ [2]

We think the political debate on racism is stagnant for two reasons: first, because it lacks any vision of what causes racism and how we can work to reduce it; and second, because it lacks any vision of a strategy to promote black empowerment, a vision of positive black experiences that promote hope for blacks.

Racism cannot be overcome by collective, order-left mechanisms (e.g., new laws) or by arm-waving from the oval office.  Racism happens when people are treated as objects and disappears in personal engagement, when they are treated as subjects.  Where racism persists, it happens when people (mostly order-right) live isolated lives, seeing others only as objects, lacking opportunities to engage with people who are ‘different’ (including blacks) as subjects.

All quadrants have positive elements and also dark sides.  Transpartisan integration occurs among the positive elements.  Unfortunately, our current political system and the major parties often feature extreme versions of the dark sides.  The best of order-right holds personal engagement as redemptive.  Personal engagement, promoting trust, is by far the most powerful instrument for overcoming racism with interracial mixing.

The key to encouraging this is by communication across loyalties (here, between the races), and we have found that that often happens when institutions feature a freedom-right commitment to shared property rights in public space.  Any political leader that champions a policy agenda toward citizen empowerment and engagement in community institutions will effect a fundamental change in our political system, now ravaged by conflict.  In terms of relations between blacks and whites such an agenda, highlighted by real experiences where it is being shown to be transformative, the political conversation would come alive.

Reducing racism through engagement would help correct the second reason our political debate is stagnant—by creating a vision of black empowerment and positive black experiences.  We believe that identity politics can play a positive role in healing racial conflict but only in forms that promote visions of black empowerment. 

Hillary’s identity politics treated all blacks as the same—as victims with no control over their lives until progressives could get whites (her ‘deplorables’) to change.  Her vision implicitly denies the possibility of black success (until whites change).  Blacks are no different than everyone else in needing to be treated as individuals.  Treating all blacks as a voting block treats all blacks as objects.  Empowerment depends on treating people, including blacks, as individual subjects.

(The common belief that reducing poverty can be a means for promoting development is part of the general perception of the poor, black and white, as objects and turns reality on its head.  People overcome poverty only as subjects.  In no policy is this insight more important than in empowering black individuals to real emancipation.  Empower individuals and prosperity follows.)

We believe that Professor Johnson’s article ‘Why the next black president could be a Republican’ is pointing toward this possibility and reality.  This empowerment vision is not specially fashioned from conservative or progressive ideas alone.  It is the heart of the transpartisan vision, integrating freedom and order from both left and right.

It also underlies why the next black president could be a different kind of Republican or Democrat.


[1]  Theodore R. Johnson is a Fellow at New America and an Adjust Professor in Georgetown’s McCourt School of  Public Policy.

[2] For a fascinating look at the brittleness of the left right spectrum see the debate on the veracity of Moyers’ claim at the three following sites: “’We have lost the South for a generation’”: What Lyndon Johnson said, or would have said if only he had said it;” “When the Republicans Really Were the Party of Lincoln;” and “Lyndon Johnson on the Civil Rights Act.”

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